A to Wa of Japan: Week 4

It’s time for A to Wa of Japan again! Last week’s post was about things beginning with い (i) and we looked at Izumo-taisha (出雲大社) and Inarizushi (いなり寿司). This week we are looking at things beginning with う (u), and I’d like to thank everyone who joined in with suggestions.

AK suggested umeboshi (梅干し / pickled plums); Zooming Japan suggested unagi (うなぎ / eel); Jay Dee suggested  udon (うどん / noodles), undokai (運動会 / sports day), ume (梅 / Japanese plum), Urawa (浦和 / part of Saitama City), and Uwajima (宇和島 / a place in Ehime); lovelycomplex22 suggested Uzumaki Naruto from Naruto (うずまきナルト), unagi, and umeboshi; UK Seikatsu suggested The Willard (ウィラード / a punk band),  umeboshi, umeshu (梅酒 / plum wine), unagi, udon, uni (ウニ / sea urchin),  unohana (卯の花 /soybean fibre left after making tofu),  Ujikintoki (宇治金時 / green-tea-flavoured ice shavings, with sweet red beans and condensed milk), uiro (ういろう / sweet rice jelly), Utada Hikaru (宇多田ヒカル / J-pop singer), Uchida Yuuya (内田裕也 / J-rock singer/actor, Umezawa Tomio (梅沢富美男 / an actor), Urayasu-shi (浦安市 / a place in Chiba), Utsumonomiya-shi (宇都宮市 / a place in Tochigi), and Ultraman (ウルトラマン / a character from a TV series); and Francoise suggested Uji (宇治 / a place in Kyoto), Utamaro ( 歌麿 / a ukiyo-e artist), ukiyo-e (浮世絵 / Japanese woodblock prints), umeboshi and udon.

With so many wonderful food suggestions this week, I’ve decided to do a food special and write about three Japanese foods beginning with う (u)…

Ume (梅)

If you’re familiar with Japanese food and drink, you’ll probably have heard the words umeboshi (梅干し) and umeshu (梅酒) before. Umeboshi is usually translated as ‘pickled plum’, but actually the fruit is a Japanese apricot, and is more similar to an apricot than a plum. The tree which bears the fruit known as ‘ume’ is the Prunus mume, which is an Asian tree species classified in the Armeniaca section of the genus Prunus (source: Wikipedia).

Unripe plum fruits

Unripe plum fruits

(Image source)

These Japanese apricots are better known through umeboshi and umeshu, so let’s look at them.

Umeboshi are often used as a test of just how ‘Japanese’ a foreigner can be in Japan, due to their unpopular sour taste. Umeboshi are known for being very healthy, and I’ve even heard that some people believe they can cure or prevent cancer, but for me they are just too sour to eat by themselves.

Umeboshi being dried in the sun

Umeboshi being dried in the sun

(Image source)

However, I don’t mind umeboshi when they’re mixed in with rice, either whole as in the picture below, or chopped up finely. They add a sour but nice flavour to the rice, and are especially tasty when used in onigiri (rice balls).



(Image source)

Umeshu, on the other hand, is much more to my taste…

Various brands of Umeshu for sale at a liquor store

Various brands of Umeshu for sale at a liquor store

(Image source)

Umeshu is a sweet plum wine made from the same fruit, and makes a great alternative to sake. As well as being drunk straight or with ice (umeshu rokku), umeshu is often used in cocktails, such as umeshu sour and umeshu soda, and can be found in convenience stores sold in cans.

Plum wine soda

Actually rather yummy…

Some people even make their own umeshu at home. Actually, one of my students used to, and occasionally she would smuggle PET bottles of it into the school and sneak them into my handbag for me. I found her umeshu to be the best one I had ever tasted, but also the most alcoholic!

Udon (うどん)

You’ll come across various different kinds of noodles in Japanese cooking, and udon noodles are among the more common. Udon noodles are thicker than other noodles, such as soba, made from wheat-flour, and usually white:

Cooking: Stir-fried tofu with udon noodles

There are lots of different dishes you can cook with udon, and across Japan you’ll find many regional varieties of these dishes, too. The simplest dish featuring Udon is called kake udon, which is hot udon in a simple broth. One of my favourite udon dishes is miso nikomi udon, which is popular in Nagoya. The key to miso nikomi udon is, of course, the miso, and I think the other ingredients vary. I have found various recipes on the Internet for miso nikomi udon (such as this one), all including chicken, but I’m pretty sure the one I tried in Nagoya didn’t include meat.

Misonikomi Udon

Misonikomi Udon

(Image source)

As well as being served in soups, udon can also be served fried as yakiudon (like yakisoba). If you want to try making yakiudon yourself, why not try this recipe for stir fried tofu with udon noodles, which I made last year.

Ujikintoki (宇治金時)

Although I have actually had Ujikintoki before, I didn’t know the name of it until it was suggested this week. It’s a combination of the things I love best about Japanese food – green tea and red beans! This summer dessert is made out of green tea flavoured ice shavings with red beans and condensed milk. It’s a kind of kakigori (かき氷) – shaved ice – and I didn’t realise it had its own name.



(Image source)

The ‘Uji’ in ‘Ujikintoki comes from the area of Kyoto called Uji (宇治), which is known for its green tea. ‘Kintoki’ is, I think, another name for the red beans we usually call ‘azuki beans’. According to the dictionary it’s actually a ‘red kidney bean’, but I think Ujikintoki is usually served with azuki beans.

All this talk of food is making me rather hungry!


Next week we’ll start with え (e), so please leave a comment below suggesting a topic for things beginning with え. Topics can be anything, as long as they are connected to Japan – food, places, people, characters, whatever you want to hear about! Just remember that the words you suggest must be Japanese (for example, you can’t suggest ‘egg’ for ‘e’, because ‘egg’ in Japanese is ‘tamago’, but you could suggest ‘Ehime’, which is a place in Japan.

I look forward to hearing your suggestions! (*^_^)v

12 thoughts on “A to Wa of Japan: Week 4

  1. Wow, 2 of my suggestions were used. Also, ume blossoms will be coming out soon! That means spring is just around the corner.

    My suggestions this time are: Edo-Tokyo Museum, Edo Castle, Ehime, eringi, Enoshima (it’s in my city, Fujisawa), ebi tempura, esukareita gakkou (escalator school), and ekiden (long distance relay run in January).

  2. Reading this before lunch time is not really a good idea!! :)

    For next week I suggest the Edo-Tokyo Museum. I’ve been there and I think it was amazing! I recently heard about the open air Edo-Tokyo museum which I don’t know if they are connected or not… Next time I go to Japan, I definitely will visit it!

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